We are heading into the pilot screening stage of pilot season, an annual binge-viewing ritual that started long before binge viewing existed. Over the next week or so, the broadcast networks will hold marathon screenings of their pilots for some extra feedback before the final pickup and scheduling decisions are made. Here is where things stand according to industry chatter.
ABC’s legal drama Conviction checks many boxes for ABC — it’s a procedural, a genre the new regime reportedly is making a push into; and it has a strong female protagonist to mesh with the network’s signature serialized dramas, including the Shondaland trio. The pilot starring Hayley Atwell has been steadily gaining momentum over the past couple of weeks. The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez starring Gina Torres has been on a similar trajectory, garnering stronger buzz as time progressed. On the more testosterone side, ABC has the straight-to-series drama Designated Survivor starring Kiefer Sutherland, and Marvel’s Most Wanted, which still looks like a no-brainer. Тhe heavily serialized pilots murder-trial drama The Jury continues to have fans, with the Mark Geragos-inspired Notorious also well received. John Ridley’s female PI drama Presence also is being talked about, with some suggesting that it may come down to picking up the new project or renewing Ridley’s praised ABC series American Crime. The Reese Witherspoon-produced Broken, which was an early standout, may have slipped down a notch but is still in contention.
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ABC brass are said to be liking what they have seen in comedy and may pick up more new half-hour series than originally planned, matching (or even exceeding) last year’s tally of 4 new comedies. The pilots I hear most buzz about are the same as last week, Chunk & Bean; the Justin Long-starring soccer parents show Dream Team; Speechless, about a family with a special-needs child; The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport; and Pearl, toplined by Candice Bergen. Off-cycle talking dog pilot Downward Dog, which had been well received and a sentimental favorite, seems to be losing ground.
Fox opened the pickup season with the first two new series orders to dramas 24: Legacy and Lee Daniels’ music-fueled Star, a possible companion to his hip-hop flavored hit Empire. There are several other solid drama pilot contenders at the network, The Exorcist reboot, Dan Fogelman’s baseball drama Pitch, a Lethal Weapon adaptation and yes, A.P.B.
Len Wiseman has a legitimate claim on the Pilot Whisperer title. For the third consecutive time, he was tasked with directing an underdog Fox drama pilot at the script stage, turning it into a contender. This time, it’s A.P.B. The Chicago cop drama, starring Justin Kirk, underwent a creative overhaul during filming, with production shut down for a few days while Matt Nix was brought in to replace creator David Slack. He did rewrites, with the final script literally being written on the fly, as filming was underway. Almost written off at that point, I hear A.P.B. surprised many by coming in solid. Wiseman previously exceeded expectations with his pilots for Sleepy Hollow and Lucifer, both of which went to series.
Related 2016 Fox Pilots
Comedy-wise, the time-traveling Making History, produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and small-town comedy The Mick, from the Chernin brothers, continue to look like frontrunners and are considered pretty much a lock. There hasn’t really been a strong third half-hour contender, so it is pretty much a guessing game what the network would pick up for a third new comedy series, with some suggesting that the Chris Case interracial family comedy may have a chance.
Michael Weatherly may have a very seamless transition at CBS. He will sign off from NCIS in the season finale on May 17, the night before CBS’ upfront presentation where his new show, Bull, may be featured if the procedural drama pilot based on Dr. Phil keeps up its strong momentum into the final stretch. The Training Day sequel also has been going strong. Jason Katims’ medical drama Bunker Hill continues to be in mix, as is the discussion about its odds vs. those of freshman medical drama Code Black. Joan Rater and Tony Phelan’s early favorites Doubt and Drew may have lost some steam but are still very much in contention. With all behind the scenes changes, MacGyver has been a big question mark. There has been little buzz and low expectations for the project, so the question is whether CBS could will the marquee title into existence.
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On the comedy side, the Kevin James multi-camera sitcom, said to evoke his long-running CBS hit The King of Queens, continues to look strong, with I’m Not Your Friend, starring Matt LeBlanc, also talked about. Surprisingly, CBS may have fewer comedy needs next season as The Odd Couple, starring LeBlanc’s former Friends cast mate Matthew Perry, which had been pretty much written off, is exceeding ratings expectations, putting itself in renewal contention late in the game. Besides the two starring multi-cam pilot vehicles, the single-camera family comedy Furst Born and workplace sitcom The Great Indoors have been getting some buzz. Beyond that, things fluctuate, with no consistent feedback, as My Time/Your Time, Real Good People and The Kicker — all from big-name auspices — mentioned as possibilities in different context.
We have talked about the very competitive drama field at NBC, with eight series already renewed for next season, two straight-to-series orders to the Wizard of Oz drama Emerald City and Taken prequel and a strong crop of contenders led by high-profile spinoffs Chicago Justice, and the Blacklist offshoot. The competition for the 2-3 available slots beyond that will be fierce, and given the fact that I hear virtually all NBC drama pilots came in solid, the network may look for creative ways to pick up more hourlong shows. Dan Fogelman‘s off-cycle NBC dramedy pilot 36 continues to be featured high on the list of hopefuls, with Time, Cruel Intentions and Miranda’s Rights also in contention as NBC may be weighing Chicago Justice vs Miranda’s Rights as a new legal franchise, and Miranda’s Rights vs Cruel Intentions as a new primetime soap, a genre NBC had been looking to crack this development season. Even the supernatural Midnight, Texas is said to be in the mix.
Related 2016 NBC Pilots
In comedy, several early standouts, trial mocumentary Trial & Error, the DC workplace comedy Powerless — both single-camera — and the multi-camera Marlon Wayans starrer Marlon continue to get buzz, along with Mike Schur’s Good Place, which already has a series order. Beyond that, things have been murky, with the Tracy Wigfield/Tina Fey/Robert Carlock project getting attention, and possibly the odd-couple sitcom Me and Mean Margaret and the Vladimir Caamano vehicle.
Greg Berlanti continues to march toward a fourth comic-based series on the CW with Riverdale flying high. Beyond that, monster drama Transylvania and the paranormal drama from Kevin Williamson look solid, while love story No Tomorrow, the only CW pilot with no genre hook, also has fans. There has been less feedback on the Mars project, which I hear underwent some reshoots, and the Frequency reboot.